Since today is a federal holiday, I decided to take a day of leave and scheduled an extra lesson this morning. I took Tanq, and I’ve been learning how to use draw reins on him. He was starting to get into a habit of just blowing me off when I’d ask for bend & flexion, so James suggested we ride in them. I’m glad, because while I’d used them a tiny bit on my own, as I’d never had a lesson using them, it turns out I was not really using them as well I as could. There is SO much stigma about “evil draw reins” that I was using them only as a limiter of how high he could toss his head, not really a tool to teach him where I wanted him to go.
So, that first lesson, James ground drove him in long lines, run through the bit to act like draw reins. After Tanq understood, I got back on, and James had loaned me a set of draw reins (mine were at home). First thing, he fastened them to the girth, more like side reins would be, instead of between the legs. I liked this a lot more, seems much safer when you are lengthening and shortening them, stretching the horse down and out. Next thing, I was told to actually USE the draw reins. At first, abandoning the normal rein, and asking for him to give his jaw with the draw rein. Releasing forward as soon as he offered release. Once I actually understood how to USE them, progress was remarkable. We’d get him soft and he’d loosen up his lower back, and I’d feed the reins all the way out as he reaches for the bit, rinse & repeat dozens of times. As he gets better about accepting the contact and reaching down and out when I add leg (instead of inverting and scooting), I am gathering up the regular rein for contact and leaving the draw reins as long as they go.
I’ve been practicing with them, and we use the draw reins less & less for each ride, and he’s getting pretty solid with the leg on = reaching down & out for the bit. One of the biggest realizations was when I’d first switch to regular rein from the draw rein is how much contact he was looking for. He initially likes a fairly strong contact, although he is getting softer.
Anyway, in today’s lesson, we did have the draw reins, and actually used them, because there were SHEEP!!! And those sheep were obviously fat from eating chestnut Thoroughbreds. He relaxed pretty quick, and then a sheep wandered by the arena door. But, this was a good time for me to see if I could break my habit of bringing my inside hand into the center of my body. I would try to keep an open rein when the horse is spooking away from something, and it seemed like all I would manage is a horse about to circle, overbent, and while we always got past things, it was not as nice. Instead, I used that massive spook-factor to get instruction over and over. Ah ha! Shorten the freaking outside rein, a LOT and keep the outside aids on (not overpowering). Suddenly, I was able to keep the open rein, kept my horse much straighter past the scary point and he had a better work ethic. Now, to remember that. Many years of being told to keep my hands together seems to have ended up with me taking it to extremes.
Then we talked about lateral work. I said I’d been doing some of the shoulder in, forward into center, leg yield back to the wall, but I was having a terrible time with haunches in.
So we worked on haunches in. Instead of trying to get one or two steps out of a 10m circle, we came to walk, did counter shoulder in, then worked on “just” changing the bend. Shockingly, I lean badly when I try to change the bend. Please see prior entry. I also lock up my shoulders. So, work on keeping the shoulders loose, my body centered, and if he drifts into the arena during the bend change, just move him back over, and with James walking next to us, providing extra aids (holding my lower leg ON where it needed to be and also adding a bit more rein aid) we were starting to get it.
We went both directions, and I think Tanq was getting the idea. Obviously it is easier for him when I can stay straight, so we just stretched him out a bit and he was done!